Our Troops Deserve Better Than This

Since the beginning of the ‘Iraq War,’ President Bush has said he supports the troops. His actions though, have repeatedly shown a completely different story. Below are a few examples of Bush’s support — soldiers being prevented from leaving the service, multiple tours of extended duty, affects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), inefficient care for the badly wounded, being poisoned by the military to name a few — and how it has affected our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and the rest of us.

Since the invasion of Iraq, despite the declaration of “mission accomplished” amongst highly choreographed fanfare, Bush has never had a plan for pulling out of Iraq. His war appears to have been intentionally designed to make sure it never ended so the illegal occupation of Iraq would continue indefinitely.

A series of calculated lies and phony (and illegal) military propaganda was utilized by the Bush administration to gain support — while brazenly spreading more lies and misinformation to continue support — of a war with Iraq. Defense contractors, mercenaries and other companies such as Halliburton have continued getting wealthier while Americans, Iraqis and our troops have continued paying high prices.

President Bush and the G.I. Bill

A recent editorial from The New York Times explains how President Bush opposes a new G.I. Bill of Rights that would pay college tuition for veterans who served four years, worrying that if the traditional path to college for service members since World War II is improved and expanded, too many people will take it and leave the service.

There has been mention of reinstating the draft again, but that probably won’t happen. That’s the last thing they want.

Noted by the New York Times:

“He is wrong, but at least he is consistent. Having saddled the military with a botched, unwinnable war, having squandered soldiers’ lives and failed them in so many ways, the commander in chief now resists giving the troops a chance at better futures out of uniform. He does this on the ground that the bill is too generous and may discourage re-enlistment, further weakening the military he has done so much to break.

So lavish with other people’s sacrifices, so reckless in pouring the national treasure into the sandy pit of Iraq, Mr. Bush remains as cheap as ever when it comes to helping people at home.”

President Bush — and Senator John McCain, who is currently running for Bush’s third term — have argued against a better G.I. Bill, preferring that college benefits for service members remain mediocre enough that people in uniform would be more likely to stay put rather than enlisting for 4 years and going to college.

President Bush also ‘strongly opposes‘ a 0.5 percent pay increase in military pay because it is ‘unnecessary.’ The G.I. Bill includes a section to raise the pay for soldiers by 3.9 percent. Bush wants to raise the pay of soldiers by 3.4 percent. A statement of administration policy (PDF) can be found from the White House.

Mandatory Anthrax Vaccine

The Clinton administration began the mandatory anthrax vaccinations program in 1997. A Washington Post article from 2006 reports that over the next few years, hundreds of active-duty service members refused to take the vaccine — which involves a series of 6 shots — and more than 100 were court-martialed as a result. More than 1.2 million and civilian personnel have received the vaccine.

The Penatagon reportedly revived its mandatory anthrax vaccinations program despite allegations that the shots have contributed to as many as 23 deaths and sickened hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers.

In 2003 the USA Today reported that concerns over the mandatory anthrax vaccinations fall into two categories: Safety and Morale.

From the USA Today report: “Safety. According to a 2002 survey by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, 84% of the Air Force Reserve and National Guard troops who received anthrax vaccines since they became mandatory in 1998 had reactions. They included difficulty breathing, muscle aches, headaches and dizziness.

Morale. The GAO said concern about mandatory anthrax shots was the main reason cited by two thirds of pilots and crew who left Air Force guard and reserve units from 1998 to 2000. After then vaccines were curtailed for two years because of shortages. Yet the Pentagon increasingly relies on these forces to relieve regular troops. Recruiters fear long tours of duty may drive many reservists away; mandatory shots are an added worry.”

Others have reported suffering from chronic diseases, chronic pain, pneumonia, life-threatening blood clots and a myriad of other symptoms. Some veterans are fighting back. The anthrax vaccine is the only one mandated by the Pentagon, although there are twenty to thirty known similar potentially deadly, infective biological agents available in many countries, the anthrax vaccine is inappropriate for all of them. More information regarding the anthrax policies can be found from the Department of Defense web site.

Poisoned by Depleted Uranium

The use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by the U.S. and British militaries in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as by NATO forces in Kosovo and the Israeli military in Lebanon and Palestine may lead to more deaths than those caused by nuclear bombs dropped by the U.S. at the end of World War II.

Because inhaled or ingested DU particles are highly toxic, the United Nations classified DU as an illegal weapon of mass destruction. DU is used in armor- or tank-piercing ammunition because of its high density.

From the International Action Center (IAC):

“During the current Iraq War the U.S. use of radioactive DU weapons increased from 375 tons used in 1991 to 2200 tons. Geiger counter readings at sites in downtown Baghdad record radiation levels 1,000 and 2,000 times higher than background radiation. The Pentagon has bombed, occupied, tortured and contaminated Iraq. Millions of Iraqis are affected. Over one million U.S. soldiers have rotated into Iraq. Today, half of the 697,000 U.S. Gulf War troops from the 1991 war have reported serious medical problems and a significant increase in birth defects among their newborn children.

The effects on the Iraqi population are far greater. Many other countries and U.S. communities near DU weapons plants, testing facilities, bases and arsenals have also been exposed to this radioactive material which has a half-life of 4.4 billions years.”

Basically, that means the Middle East will be radioactive forever. More information about Depleted Uranium can be found from The International Action CenterYouTube and Google video.

Stop-Loss and ReDeployment

The Chicago Tribune reported that the number of soldiers forced to remain in the Army involuntarily under the military’s “stop-loss” program has risen sharply since the Pentagon extended combat tours last year.

Thousands of stop-loss orders were issued to keep soldiers from leaving the service after Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered combat tours extended to 15 months from 12 months last spring. The Army has apparently resorted to involuntary extensions of tours of duty for soldiers who have completed their commitment so they can’t leave just before a combat tour or in the midst of a deployment.

The military says the policy is necessary to ensure that they’re not forced to send inadequately trained soldiers and unprepared units into war, but soldiers subjected to the stop-loss policy call it a back-door draft.

The number of soldiers subjected to stop-loss reached 12,235 in March of this year. About half of the soldiers kept in the Army under stop-loss are non-commissioned officers who hold key leadership positions at the rank of sergeant and above, and cannot be easily replaced.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the Pentagon alerted about 40,000 active-duty and National Guard soldiers that they’ll be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the fall. The deployment plans involve units and soldiers who have served two or three tours lasting as long as 15 months. Several of the units have been home for less than 12 months, violating a Pentagon goal of allowing soldiers at least a year between combat deployments.

15-month tours have apparently been a major reason so many senior enlisted soldiers are leaving the service. The military has been overextended and stretched so thin that America has been left less safe. Despite all of that though, President Bush continues pushing for war with Iran.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

A recent study by the Rand Corporation shows that nearly 300,000 U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are suffering from major depression or post traumatic stress. Of the nearly 300,000 suffering from PTSD, only about half have sought treatment.

The Rand study estimates that the societal costs of PTSD and major depression for two years after deployment range from around $6,000 to more than $25,000 per case and that the total societal costs of the conditions for two years range from $4 billion to $6.2 billion. More information about the study can be found from The Baltimore Sun or from The Rand Corporation.

An article from the Salem News delves into the negligence and disgrace of the Army, Marines and the Veterans Affairs (VA) about the gross mistreatment of not only veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but the mistreatment of all PTSD veterans going back to the Civil War.

Also mentioned by the Salem News is that the families of PTSD victims also suffer from the affects of PTSD. It seems no one has addressed this problem. Bloomberg has an article detailing how the number of suicides among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars may exceed the combat death toll because of inadequate mental health care. Suicides among Iran and Afghanistan veterans have also risen considerably.

Recently, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and VoteVets.org released an e-mail obtained from a VA employee directing VA staff to refrain from diagnosing soldiers and veterans with PTSD.

From CREW: “On March 20, 2008 a VA hospital’s PTSD program coordinator sent the e-mail below to a number of VA employees, including psychologists, social workers, and a psychiatrist stating that due to an increased number of “compensation seeking veterans,” the staff should “refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out” and they should “R/O [rule out] PTSD” and consider a diagnosis of “Adjustment Disorder” instead:…”

PTSD Cases Jumped 50 Percent in 2007

The Associated Press reported that wartime PTSD cases jumped nearly 50 percent in 2007. The Army Times reported that the VA has announced two new panels designed to address the number of suicide attempts among patients under VA care, which is running around 1,000 a month. The Associated Press also reported that thousands of private counselors are offering free service to troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems because the military is short on therapists.

Obviously, more needs to be done to help these veterans. As noted by The Anchorage Daily News, too many of our soldiers have died unnecessarily — because they were sent to fight for a purpose other than America’s freedom.

Also noted by The Anchorage Daily News:

“What we owe these men who fight so bravely for their and our freedom is to send them to war only when that freedom is truly threatened, and to make every effort to protect their lives during war — by providing them with the most advantageous weapons, training, strategy and tactics possible.

Shamefully, America has repeatedly failed to meet this obligation.

And the current war in Iraq — which could have had a valid purpose as a first step in ousting the terrorist-sponsoring, anti-American regimes of the Middle East — is responsible for thousands of unnecessary American deaths in pursuit of the sacrificial goal of “civilizing” Iraq by enabling Iraqis to select any government they wish, no matter how anti-American.”

Walter Reed and Fort Bragg

Last year the Washington Post ran a long report detailing the neglect and frustration soldiers face at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center — mold, holes in ceilings and floors, mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses, stench and more.

Maimed and wounded soldiers, released from hospital beds but still in need of treatment are sent to a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged patients to await bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty. The average stay there is 10 months but some have been stuck there for a couple of years.

The Washington Post spent more than four months visiting patients without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. It’s a long article but well worth the read. The military has said they’ll clean it up and correct it, but time will tell. Once the report was released, Walter Reed patients were told to keep quiet. The Washington Post has a special section on their web site that follows the care and treatment of the men and women at Walter Reed, the promises made and the reality lived in the aftermath of war.

One soldier who was deployed in Iraq came home to barracks in Fort Bragg containing moldy ceiling panels, broken toilet seats, backed up sewage, water flooding and exposed pipes. After his father posted a video on YouTube showing the abominable living conditions, the Army spent a weekend inspecting nearly all its barracks to determine if similar situations existed. It took a civilian to point out what should have been cleaned and corrected long before it was.

Troops Warned About Politics

The New York Times reported that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote an open letter to all those in uniform, warning them to stay out of politics as the nation approaches a presidential election in which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be a central, and certainly divisive issue.

It’s rather ironic that the troops are being told to stay out of politics since politics is what led the Pentagon to target Iran, Syria, Iraq and four other countries in the Middle East for a regime change — allegedly after the attacks of 9/11.

Several soldiers probably struggle with the execution of free fire orders coming from their commanders who told them “kill everything that moves” which included all civilians. We’ll save the explanation of how killing innocent, unarmed men, women and children affects the barely-graduated-high-school-aged soldiers for another day. 

The information mentioned above is just part of the support our troops receive from the Bush administration. Lies have been one consistent factor — as well as the lack of responsibility and accountability — of the last seven plus years by the Bush administration. The troops, their families and Americans deserve better than that. Some say we need democratic regime change at home, and we need soldiers for freedom and democracy inside America. We need to bring the war home to fight the rich and powerful, not their wicked wars. Maybe they’re right.

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